Mission Accomplished

I just realized that it has been 2 weeks since my last post! Sorry about that, dear readers, but I was on a mission- literally. When I told people I was headed to the Dominican Republic for a quick vacation, their typical response was “Oh, lucky you, the Dominican is so beautiful!” The scenery was indeed, quite breathtaking, as this is a land of great beauty,

scenic vista

but also a land of devastating poverty,

Store front Puerto Plata

that which we experienced first hand during our week-long stay. Coach and I, through the Mustard Seed Communities, accompanied sixteen high school-aged boys from the north shore of Boston, to the Dominican Republic to work at an orphanage for developmentally challenged children: Hogar Immanuel in Sosua, just outside of Puerto Plata.

Mustard Seed        fairy

Anyone who is concerned about the youth of America need to look no further than these extraordinary young men to be reassured that the future of our country will be in good hands. These boys were funny, smart, energetic, engaging and very eager to pitch in to do whatever task awaited them, whether it was feeding the helpless, wheelchair-bound children

feeding Estevan

or cleaning and painting the village playground.

boys painting

Even the local villagers pitched in! (of course, it was rather difficult to explain, in Spanish, why they shouldn’t get oil paint on their hands!!! What a mess!!

locals painting                            painting the playground

While some of their classmates were hitting the slopes in the mountains or sunning themselves on some sunny island during their February vacation, these young men willingly gave up their precious time to volunteer for a cause they believed in. Through Mustard Seed, they were able to see first hand how the impoverished side-away from the fancy restaurants and resorts- of the Dominican operates, and how desperate the need for help is on a daily basis.

Mustard Seed LogoThe Mustard Seed Communities organization was founded in 1978 in Jamaica to service abandoned orphans, most of whom were either ill with HIV/AIDS or severely physically and mentally challenged. From their website: “Mustard Seed Communities has focused on abandoned children with disabilities for several reasons, the most obvious being that these children are the most defenseless in any community. Mustard Seed Communities provides care and shelter for children with severe disabilities”.

Hogar children

The Mustard Seed orphanage Hogar Immanuel in Sosua itself is quite bright and cheerful, and the twenty children that reside there are lovingly cared for by an amazing staff who spend their days feeding, dressing, bathing and entertaining them. The majority of the work is back-breaking, lifting heavy children in and out of bunks and wheelchairs, doing mountains of continuous laundry and preparing food in giant pots three times daily.


This is the work of angels, and the workers- primarily women- do it all with smiles on their faces and hugs all around. They use whatever available resources they have to create a warm and welcoming environment for the children and volunteers alike.

rug and basketball                               striped rug

These beautiful rugs were created from the leftover plastic diaper packaging- what a great idea! Brilliantly colored, sturdy and easily cleaned with a hose or sponge, they were perfect for blocking the sun, as well as using for mats on the floor.  The children of the village surrounding the orphanage-mainly in bare feet and hand-me-down ragged clothing-come from little.

village laundry

Some not privileged enough to even attend elementary school,  and living in the open shacks with barbed wire fences they called home, they were unfailingly happy and so excited to meet and play with our boys.

bball boys

One of the most dire areas we visited was Christ in the Garbage Ministries, located just a few short miles from the orphanage.

Christ in the Garbage

Here, local Haitian immigrants spend their days in the blazing hot sun picking rotting food, discarded clothing and anything recyclable to sustain themselves and their families. The sight of young men, old women and even some children dressed in rags walking over mountains of fly-infested garbage and filth was overwhelming, to say the least. Through the Mustard Seed Ministry, we spent one afternoon packing up a hundred food packages, then distributing them to these poorest of the poor.

Food Packages

A small contribution, indeed, to these starving and desperate people, but Mustard Seed continues to provide for them, and has set up a school for the local children as well.  To learn more about Mustard Seed, and possible ways to help and contribute to their extraordinary programs, click here        Mustard Seed Logo

So, that’s where I was on my winter vacation.

Palm tree sunset

Restful and relaxing? Not. Amazing, enlightening and incredibly rewarding? Absolutely! Was I happy to return home to clean, hot, running water, a microwave oven and snow? You bet! The greatest lesson I learned this week? Don’t sweat the small stuff, and don’t take anything for granted- we have so much more than so many. Have a sunny Sunday everyone, no matter where on earth you are! Susan

Same Old Story…

…same old song and dams!! After a day of shoveling and clearing off snow-covered paths and cars, Coach and I were resting our weary bones next to a roaring fire last night, having nachos and beer and watching reruns of Pawn Stars (I know, but how many on demand movies can you watch in a day when you are trapped inside!?!) When all of a sudden, I hear it: drip, drip, drip. Like Edgar Allen Poe’s Telltale Heart, the sounds grow louder, pounding into my consciousness with each drop until the deafening waves can no longer be ignored! (well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea…) Looking up, I notice the tiny drops along the ceiling moldings that are slowly spiraling their way down my freshly-painted walls!

Ceiling Drips

Ice Dams!!!! For those of you blissfully unaware of this natural phenomenon, according to Wikipedia: “An ice dam (or ice jam) occurs when water builds up behind a blockage of ice. Ice dams can occur in various ways which include a glacier blocking an unfrozen river and a thawing river being blocked by a still-frozen section further on.  This is a pic I took in Alaska from a ship- beautiful, right?!

Alaskan Glacier

On a small scale the term can be used for ice blockages of gutters and spouts on buildings.”  Not so pretty.

roof ice dam diagram

In above diagram you can see how the ice dam forms on a building:  inadequate insulation, incorrect pitch in the roof, no ridge or soffit vents, multiple roof lines causing areas of built up icicles- all of those conditions are present in our old house. What you don’t see is Coach up on the lower roof with a hammer and a roof rake removing the glacier of snow that piled there during the storm on Friday night.

roof hammer

roof rake

These pics are taken from my upstairs bath window. I think Coach takes some kind of pleasure taking a hammer to our old house.

roof coach

Yes, much like the House of Seven Gables of Nathaniel Hawthorne fame, we have many roofs-or is that rooves-hmm…

roof gables

Our original 1850’s home was a small cape with a deeply pitched roof. Add a few rooms and a porch, and you have a recipe for ice dam disaster. This is Coach on the roof, shoveling off the six foot snow dune sitting over my family room!!! Now you may wonder where I was during all of this roof-climbing and snow raking…I was inside taking care of the dog. She is scared by the sound of pounding on the roof! Right.

roof dune

The confluence of roof lines causes large icicles to form on the upper roofs, which then drip down onto the lower roofs, resulting in multiple areas of built up ice dams that then leak back into the house and leads to the drips down the inside walls.

roof ice

Damn!! We have tried caulking, adding a rubber ice shield roof, heating cables, but nothing has prevented the return of the ice dam after a big snow storm. Now, looking at the front of the house with the gigantic icicles dangling ( just waiting for some unsuspecting mailman), you would think that would be the problem area.

roof icicles

Not so, because those just melt and fall harmlessly to the ground. Which in the spring leads to another problem, the leaky fieldstone foundation. But that’s a story for another blog. Of course, in the overall scheme of things, a bit of a drip is not a big deal, while in other places folks are being evacuated as their homes along the coastline are being swept out to sea.  And we have had a reprieve of sorts, with the weather being so mild the past few winters. So, it’s time to venture back downstairs to see if there was more dripping overnight. And do a bit more digging out.

roof view of street

And wait for spring, which is just a few short weeks away!! Have a (hopefully) sunny and safe Sunday everyone!! Susan

Warm and Cozy, Fireside Toasty

Here in the Northeast, we have been fortunate for the past two winters, with only an occasional dusting of snow that melted soon after. But today, this one looks like it might be the real deal, so we are hunkering down with firewood and food, hot cocoa and lots of candles… just in case.


As we sit and wait for what is reportedly to be “a potentially historic storm“, I would like to share some images of warm and cozy spaces from my Houzz.com Ideabooks featuring fireplaces, this week’s design High Five for Friday! These are spaces that invite you in to peel off your hats and coats,  kick off your boots and cuddle up in a warm, fuzzy blanket to sit and read awhile. This space by Peace Design is so grand, but so warm and inviting, using wood and stone to create a cabin-like feel.

Peace Design Interiors

This spicy red walls of this space by Smith and Vansant Interiors envelop you in warmth.

 Smith and Vansant Architects

Who wouldn’t want to cozy up in this lakeside cabin by Lands End Development.

 Stone Hearth Lands End Developers

Who couldn’t dream of sleeping in this spectacular space by Bill Poss, with the snow-covered vista in the background?

Interior by Bill Poss

And this bedroom by Bess Jones Interiors is just plain dreamy

Bess Jones Interiors

I adore the simple bohemian farmhouse style, with white wainscotting and stone fireplace by Bosworth Hoedemaker

Bosworth Hodemaker

And this copper clad fireplace in an eclectic dining space by SF Girl By Bay


Now if I had a library like this amazing one by Timothy Corrigan Inc., I wouldn’t mind those 5000+ books that Coach has collected…

Timothy Corrigan Interiors

OK, time to grab a good book (hey, check out my goodreads section, I have added some awesome decorating books!) and wait for this storm to pass. Keep warm and safe everyone!! Susan

The Studio As Art

I am very excited to share with you some recent photographs that were shot at Boston Studio Photography West in Clinton. These are the sets that we have been working on for the past few weeks. Although not entirely finished, a couple of the studio rooms are camera-ready, as you can see in the photographs below. With the models in place, the studio design concepts tell the story.

Photo Courtesy of Paul Granese Photography

Kirsten Photo Courtesy of Paul Granese Photography

Since these are sets and not functioning rooms, the photographers can easily edit and photoshop the images to their liking. These first images were taken in the victorian parlor by Paul Granese Photography.

Photo Courtesy of Paul Granese Photography

Piano Man Photo Courtesy of Paul Granese Photography

This image was snapped in the Powder Room,  with the model seated in the gold and black chair I featured last week in one of my DIY blogs.

Photo Courtesy of Paul Granese Photography

Kirsten Photo Courtesy of Paul Granese Photography

I also created the gorgeous dressing table. It was an old, broken card table that had most definitely seen better days. With some paint, fringe, a glue gun and some amazing pin-tuck fabric,BSP Table Repair BSP Table

BSP Table Skirt     BSP Dressing Table

BSP Dressing Table Top

I was able to transform it into a vintage glam dressing table for just a few dollars. More images to come as we continue with the studio transformations. In the meantime, batten down the hatches everyone in the Northeast! It’s about to get stormy out there! Susan

New England Home Guest Blog #2!

Rachel Hazelton Interior DesignIf you are reading this blog, you can thank a teacher…specifically, Rachel Hazelton of Rachel Hazelton Interior Design. One of my Interior Design instructors at North Shore Community College, Rachel is the subject of my second guest blog for NE Home Magazine’s Design Blog. She is an extraordinary designer, well-known for her strikingly glamorous interiors, and the marketing teacher who inspired me to launch this blog. To read more about Rachel, please click here: http://blog.nehomemag.com/2013/02/susan-mathison-rachel-hazelton/trackback/. There are links to Rachel’s blog and website, in the event that you are interested in seeing more of her work. Have a terrific Tuesday everyone! Susan

Boston Studio Stylings

For the past few weeks I have been working on a large scale project, helping to transform some rooms in a turn-of-the-century mill building into workable photography suites for Boston Studio Photography West. Using primarily cast-offs, craigslist and antique shop finds-including some “barn finds”, we have been slowly transforming rooms filled with pieces of furniture that will be used as photography props.

BSP Victorian Parlor

Dressing a set for photography is much different than designing a room in a home. The design principles are the same: you define the style of the space, like the victorian parlor above, then you paint the walls, add furnishings and draperies and accessorize. In this case, we are sort of working backwards, using available furniture pieces as the inspiration and designing around them.

BSP Velvet Settee

Each suite is being styled in a different genre and era based mainly on the furniture available to us, so we are pairing together, then transforming chairs, tables, beds and lamps so that they work harmoniously to achieve an overall “look”.  Perfection doesn’t matter to a photographer-photoshop takes care of that. Illusion is what we are after. This powder room chair before: red and yellow floral brocade with a blonde wood frame that had an almost plastic appearance.

BSP Gold Chair Before

The chair now: burnished gold frame and a black brocade seat and back, easily accomplished with $3 worth of paint and a bit of sweat equity. BSP Gold Chair After

For the frame, I mixed artist’s gold metallic acrylic paint with some darker gold craft paint along with some metallic spray paint in my tray, but didn’t blend it completely.

BSP Gold Paints

Brushed it on, heavily in some areas and more sparingly in others. The effect I was going for was glam but worn. For the cushions, I used regular black acrylic craft paint (2 for $1 at AC Moore : ), mixed with Plaid Enterprises Textile Medium.

BSP Textile Medium

This is a thinner that helps the paint absorb into the fabric rather than just sitting on top, so the fabric texture remains soft to the touch. The piece is transformed, not only to the eye, but for the camera as well. Perfect for our new powder room installation. Will keep you posted on the changes as we move along. Have a SUPER SUNDAY everyone- and since the Pats are not playing…go 49’ers!!! Susan

Killer Stuff…

…And Tons of Money.Killer Stuff and Tons of Money

If you are into the whole flea market, estate sale and Brimfield Antiques Show scene-as Coach and I are- then this book, penned by Maureen Stanton, is a great read and this week’s High Five for Friday! Of course, if wandering through miles of pop-up tents in blistering heat looking at old stuff leaves you bleary-eyed and and bored to tears, then this is definitely not the book for you! For those of us who fill our homes with the old and the new, enjoying the hunt as well as the find, this book is a tell-all expose, focusing on one particular dealer (his pseudonym is Curt Avery, but he is never identified in the book, apparently to protect his livelihood). It’s entertaining and filled with valuable information about the deals and dealers that work the antiques and collectibles circuit for a living (and yes, apparently you can make a living doing this- but you have to know what you are doing!)

Killer Stuff Hardcover

Each chapter is an essay on a nomadic way of life that seems, at first glance, pretty stress-free and easy, but is really quite strenuous and fraught with disaster. The author cites so many instances of dealers (these are the people that are supposed to know what the heck is going on!), losing thousands of dollars by purchasing faked pieces, or selling a piece at an undervalued price, only to have it turned over 2 or 3 times, with the price doubling each time. This is the seemy side to the world of antiques and collectibles. Who knew that unscrupulous dealers would figure out how to age colored glass or recreate perfectly turned wooden legs on an antique chair, only to sell them as original and intact? Well, I guess I did assume that this happens, but not nearly at the frequency and by so many reputable dealers cited in this book.


The author spent seven years following Avery around to flea markets and shows, spending weekends sleeping under the stars in Brimfield, no showers or bathrooms to be had. Hours and hours spent waiting in line, pitching the tents, unpacking and setting up, only to turn around and re-pack everything that isn’t sold in a weekend- this is the life of a dealer. It is interesting to note that Avery, the dealer featured in the book,  got his start as a kid collecting bottles- the kind you find when you are digging in an area where old homes are still standing. Like this collection on my windowsill that we found down behind the barn while digging for garden and fence installations.  Not worth a lot, but still fun to learn the origins of Kikapoo Indian Oil.

Antique Bottles

The takeaway from this book? Buyer beware. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Because it may have been altered. Buy something for its charm and beauty, not because you think it is a good investment. (How many times have you seen an episode of Antiques Roadshow where some unsuspecting guy drags a supposedly priceless piece of artwork all the way from Timbuktoo thinking that it’s worth a million dollars, only to find out what he has is essentially worthless?!) And if you happen to venture out to the next Brimfield Show (it’s coming in May), look for the guy with the curly dark hair and the collection of bottles. He’s honest, extremely knowedgable and respected in his field.  Happy Friday everyone! Susan

Sleigh Rides In The Snow

It’s Wanderlust Wednesday, and since we are enjoying unseasonably balmy weather here in the Boston area today, I thought I would share some snow-covered photos taken just a couple of weeks ago in Jackson, New Hampshire. Jackson is the quintessential New England town with its covered bridges, Jackson Covered Bridge

white steepled church and the quaint town library,

Jackson Library

with the ice-capped Ellis river running through it.

Jackson Riverview

Over the New Year’s weekend, we were so fortunate to spend quality time with some dear friends, eating and drinking, doing puzzles and shopping, generally just relaxing by the roaring fire in their log cabin in the woods (literally!). We ventured out one evening to Nestlenook Farms for a horse-drawn sleigh ride. So fun!!

Jackson Sleigh Ride

 If Jackson is the perfect NE town, then Nestlenook is the picture perfect postcard place.

Jackson Nestlenook @ Day

Gingerbread-style victorian pink cottages and gazebos-even a chapel-

Jackson Nestlenook Chapel

the paddock with horses and burros,

Jackson Horse

and the bed and breakfast inn (presently under renovation), are scattered throughout the perfectly manicured grounds that, at night, transform into a magical winter wonderland.

Jackson Magical Tree

Under thousands of twinkling lights, the horse-drawn sleighs go dashing through the snow (well, not exactly dashing, more like strolling) past the victorian skating pond,

Jackson Skaters at Night

the paddocks and stables

Jackson Horse and Burro

and arbors and gazebos,

Jackson Gazebo

all dressed in their sparkling winter whites- so country pretty!!! Jackson Skating House @ Night

Jackson Archway @ Night

Add a cup of hot chocolate, a group of lifelong friends and a roaring fire, and you have the perfect winter evening! Here’s to our January thaw-enjoy the weather today! Susan

Excited About Electrolux!

I know, excited about a vacuum- seriously!?!?! But, it’s arrived!! My brand new sparkling, shiny, super sexy and sleek black Electrolux Jet Maxx Green Canister Vacuum– this week’s High Five For Friday! We immediately got off to a good start when I noticed a little tag line on the box-“thinking of you”-awwww, so nice!

vacuum box

A few weeks ago I published a blog about finding the perfect vacuum cleaner: Living In A Vacuum. From that blog post, I received multiple suggestions regarding styles and brands to try. The one name that kept popping up was Electrolux. Comments like: “my grandmother/mother/aunt had one for years and it sucked up everything in sight -heck it would have sucked up the dog!”  (note that not one person said “my grandfather/dad/uncle- just saying…) made me take a serious look at this brand that has been around since 1918. I did a lot of online reseach, and headed out to my local stores to do some hands-on brand demos from other manufacturers, but this Electrolux Jet Maxx was the clean winner. Where to buy? Online, of course. The MSRP is $499.00, a hefty price for a small appliance! But, on Kohls.com, it was on sale, and then I had the magic 30% off coupon code from Retail Me Not– AND free shipping!!! Plus, I received $60 in Kohls Cash (if you are unaware of this deal, for every $50 you spend you get $10 in Kohls dollars to spend-sweet!) So, with the sale + tax and the coupon and the Kohls Cash, my final price was $274.68- almost half off! (Coach, just ignore that part-OK?)

But nothing is a good deal if it doesn’t work- right? Right off the bat, I was pretty impressed by the overall appearance-looks quite space-aged, kind of Darth Vader-ish, don’t you think?! Very heavy components, and the plastic, which is made from 55% recycled materials, was hefty and strong, unlike some of the other brands’ I had sampled.

vacuum coupling mechanism

Good thing they marked this package in the box. Had I tossed this,  I would have spent most of my vacuuming time on my hands and knees!

vacuum box warning

Love the shape of the handle-looks like a gas pump nozzle! But it contours to your hand, and has the on-board tools that you can switch easily.

Loving the retractable cord feature. You just touch the button with your toe and the cord gets sucked back up inside- brilliant!

Electrolux Retractable Cord

Although gotta be careful- awhile ago I had an old dust buggy with a retractable cord- touched the button with my foot and the cord end-with a plug adapter attached-came flying up and hit me across the bridge of my nose and almost knocked me out! (Still haven’t regained my sense of smell from that trauma) OK, so the true test is in the suction and the Jet Maxx passed with flying colors. My beloved dining room area rug, that hasn’t had a good cleaning in months, took on a new life once the nap was raised with the powerful Jet Maxx suction.

vacuum carpet

With little pushing or pulling effort on my part, the vacuum powers its way across the rugs and, on the low nap ones, it actually took off on me! The canister follows me around like a puppy on a leash, and the floor adapter with a swivel head makes it simple to get around and under the furniture on the hard wood floors. The stairs. The toughest area for any vacuum. Apparently there is a separate rotating brush you can get for the stairs, but it didn’t come with my vacuum. So, I used the crevice tool for the corners and edges, and the power head for the treads. Perfect.

vacuum hall of shame

Lightweight, easy to maneuver, got all of the dog fur and raised the nap so it looks somewhat presentable (part of the Hall of Shame project, it’s threadbare, and oh, it’s maroon! and needs replacing, so not even this vac can save it). So, there you have it- my unbiased, non-sponsored, personal opinion and a well-deserved High Five for this canister vac. I will let you know in six months if this is the vac of my dreams, but for now- this one’s a keeper!! It’s Friday everyone-have fun!! Susan

Setting the Mood

Although I adore Pinterest, and have spent many a cold winter afternoon “pinning” photos of amazing interiors,  I find that the best way to design my own cohesive space is with a “mood board” or presentation board.

Mood Board Vintage Parlor

Although photographs and Ipad apps are great for overall visual, nothing comes close to actually feeling the fabric textures and metallic finishes and seeing the colors with your own eyes. A large foam core board is the perfect backdrop for taping and glueing bits of photos, fabrics and trims. Board Mid Century Modern

First, of course, you need measurements and a room layout- this Online Room Planner from Urban Barn is fantastic! You plug in your room dimensions, then add in your pieces of furniture and accessories, lighting, structural points and just like that- you have a printable plan!

Urban Barn The Make Room Plans

If you are starting with a clean slate, then you will need to begin with an inspiration- whether its a paint chip, a fabric swatch or photograph of a piece of furniture. In this case, its a gold antique velvet settee that will become the focal point of a victorian parlor.

Mood Board Velvet Settee

That will become your “jumping off” point from which you can then design the rest of the space. For wall and trim colors, I head to my local bigbox hardware store, where they literally have thousands of paint chips to choose from. As you can see, I have accumulated quite a pile of chips- but I never toss them once a project is done- they could just be the very color I need for my next board!

Mood Board Paint Chips

There I can create a palette that is going to work in the room- and those are free for the taking! One of my favorite tasks is choosing fabrics-walking through my local Joann’s or Zimmans is for most people, I assume, akin to walking into a Godiva chocolatier-yummy!!

Board Zimmans Showroom

I could spend hours (and sometimes I do) wandering the aisles, poking through the clearance section, searching for the perfect look and feel of the fabulous fabrics I will be using to create drapes or bedcoverings or toss pillows. And they will happily provide you with swatches of your chosen fabrics that you can take home and add to your board, prior to purchasing an entire bolt. Once you have your pieces, you literally just start glueing in place, and it will soon become clear if everything will work in harmony,

Mood Board Pretty in Pink

or if you will need to edit, either by addition or subtraction. It’s fun, it’s so functional, and it will help you clearly define your new space before you put it in place! Hope your mood is a good one today-after all, it’s almost the weekend! Susan

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